The three cities I find myself in the most are Los Angeles (my home), Toronto (my home away from home), and Vancouver (my home away from my home away from home). Here’s the first installment of the list of restaurants I gravitate to in each of these cities—along with some of my favorite dishes.


Toronto

I LOVE the Toronto restaurant scene. There are so many great chefs serving up hi-end food with a down-lo attitude. When I’m working in the city, I usually stay in the west end at the Gladstone Hotel, or in a loft that I have rented on and off since the days I was shooting Surreal Gourmet. So it’s not surprising that the majority of my go-to restaurants are in the Queen St. W./Ossington corridor. That said, everyone of them is worth the drive from anywhere in the city.

(in no particular order)

Electric Mudd cheffy BBQ

• Brock at Queen St. W.

– order the fried chicken the second you are seated because it always runs out. then order all the sides and a cross section of the meats. portions are small (along with the prices), so you can sample a lot.

Hacienda, Playa Cabana, Cantina, and Barrio Coreano always party—in the room and on the palate

• Dupont at Avenue Rd, Dupont at Davenport, The Junction, and Bloor at Bathurst (respectively)

– All four of these restaurants are a part of Dave Sidhu’s mini empire. and all four feature vibey vintage neon-filled rooms, great cocktails and Mexican fusion dishes with influences that vary depending on the location. look for the specials which always showcase an extra serving of passion.

Grand Electric hipster Mexican tacos and bourbon

• Queen St. W.

– order one of everything
Parts & labor Parkdale vibey
• Queen St. W.
– anything made from the roof garden rocks, as does Matty’s sea bass carpaccio
Cava cheffy nouvelle Spanish tapas
• Yonge just N. of St. Claire
– order one of everything
The Local cozy groovy local/Italian
• Queen St. W. at Ronsisvalle
Chiado upscale Portugese, great wines
• College at Ozzington
– eat at the bar and nibble. The bisque is a fave
Pizza Libretto hipster Neapolitan pizza
• Ossington
County General retro hipster, delicious food. Great for lunch
• Queen St. W.
– I still dream about their fried chicken sandwich
Golden Turtle great, cheap Vietnamese
• Ozzington
– #113, #116, #89, #172
Drake Café always delicious lunches
• Queen St. W.
– the turkey club is dangerously good, as is everything else

Odd Seoul Korean-influenced bar food. At 8p, some of the dishes may seem a bit greasy, but after a night of drinking, the same dishes will be the best thing you have ever eaten.

• Ozzington

– try the pork belly and kimchee fried rice

The Red Tea Room. a magical little tea, cake, and lunch room

• Queen St. W.

– i always order the daily soup sampler and the daily bento box

Porchetta life-affirming pork sandwiches

• Dundas St.
– they basically only make one thing at this joint—and they do it stunningly well
Indian rice factory upscale Indian
• Dupont
– all the classics are great
Julie’s snack bar fun Cuban
• Dovercourt
– order the garlic bread, corn fritters and garlic shrimp
Lai Wah Heen very upscale dim sum
• Chestnut St.
-every plate is like a precious little jewel
Noce classy Italian, great wines
• Queen St. W.
– all the classic Italian dishes are classic
Mistura great contemporary Italian
• Dupont St.
-order whatever Massimo recommends
Enoteca Sociale hipster Italian
• College St
416 snack bar drinks + small plates
• Bathurst St. at Queen

 


Vancouver

I love sticking my fork (and sometimes my chopsticks) into the culinary melting pot that this city has become. The only reason this list isn’t three times longer is that I am a creature of habit.

(in no particular order)

Vij’s nouvelle Indian
• 11th Ave.
– the lamb popsicles are a must, but everything is stellar. (be forewarned that they don’t take reservations—but they do feed you at the bar)
Rangoli (vij’s sister restaurant) less expensive nouvelle Indian
• 11th Ave.
Tojo’s amazing (but expensive!) sushi
• Broadway
Kintaro Ramen awesome ramen
• Denman St.
Jang mo jib Korean bibimbap place
• Robson
-fun late night vibe and great, cheap dishes
Salt charcouterie and wine bar
• Gastown
L’abattoir nouvelle cuisine done right
• Gastown
Chung King dim sum
• Commercial Drive
– all the classic dim sum dishes and then some
Go Fish the ultimate fish shack
• Fisherman’s Warf, South Granville Island
– awesome salmon burger and classic fresh-cut fries
Congee Noodle House amazing congee + duck and pea tendrils
• Broadway
– Sea bass congee, garlic pea tendrils and BBQ duck. Ask for extra green onion salsa for the congee (well worth the 50 cents they will charge you)
Legendary noodle house hand-pulled noodles (as featured on an episode of Glutton for Punishment)
• Denman St.
– order the hand-pulled noodles and tell Brock I sent you
Sully’s Great bagels, smoked salmon schmear and cinnamon rolls
• 3 locations


Los Angeles

L.A. is full of fancy-schmancy restaurants. And generally speaking I rarely go to any of them. When I am home, which is rare, I usually stay in and cook. When I do go out, it’s either to one of a small handful of casual favorites, or a strip mall.

(in no particular order)

CONVENTIONAL RESTAURANTS

Loteria upscale Mexico City-style Mexican
• Hollywood Blvd (at Cherokee)
– order shrimp tacos, chicharron de queso, tortilla soup, chipotle salsa
Pizzera Mozza cheffy crust-centric pizza
• Melrose and highland
Osteria Mozza great Italian
• Melrose and highland
– order the fancy buratta. You will not be disappointed
Pit Fire Pizza every bit as good as Pizzeria Mozza, but 50% off
• downtown on 2nd st. + several other locations
– order the pumpkin pizza
Border Grill nouvelle Mexican
• downtown on Figura and in santa monica
– order the corn tamales
Baco Mercat hipster restaurant. Latin-influenced small plates

• downtown, 408 S. Main St.

Bar Ama contemporary fusion Mexican.

118 W 4th St.

– best guacamole ever!

Petty Cash Taqueria contemporary fusion Mexican

• downtown, 7360 Beverly Blvd

Bestia insanely vibey cali-italian

• downtown, 2121 E. 7th Place

– everything is incredibly solid

Daikokuya awesome ramen
• downtown on 1st Street by Japanese museum

 

STRIP MALL RESTAURANTS

Some of the best ethnic restaurants in Los Angeles are located in tiny, non-descript strip malls. They are usually run by owner-chefs who have arrived in L.A. with amazing culinary skills, dreams and passion, but none of the financing required to open a free-standing restaurant. What these places lack in décor and ambiance, they make up for in spades with authentic dishes and dirt-cheap prices.

Spicy BBQ amazing northern Thai, 16 seats
• Santa Monica Blvd. and Normandy
– order coconut noodle chicken soup, lemongrass sausage, BBQ pork
Palm Thai excellent Thai + Thai elvis!
• Hollywood Blvd/Bronson
– order green papaya salad, stir-fried morning glory, spicy fish soup + the usual
Soot bull jeep excellent Korean BBQ
• 8th street in Koreatown
Pollo al Brasa awesome wood-fired rotisserie chicken + jalapeno sauce
• Vine St. just north of Melrose
– its all about the chicken and the sauce
Mexicale Taco & Co. fire-grilled Mexican
• Downtown on Figueroa St.
– order one of everything, and two of the “vampiros”
Guisados taco Mexico city-style tacos
• Boyle heights, and now on Sunset in Silverlake
– start with the sampler plate and discover your favorites
Loteria same basic menu as the Hollywood restaurant (see above), but in a food court
• Farmer’s Market 3rd & Fairfax